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Rich and famous – one of our least recognised oxymorons

_Simbu Writers AssociationPHIL FITZPATRICK

READING Bill Brown’s eulogy to the old kiap Harry West, it occurred to me that it will be people like Harry who will be remembered long after any of their wealthy counterparts.

Wealth might make you famous in the short term but it is no ticket to historical fame.

It is what you do with your life rather than how much wealth you accumulate that really matters. If you are wealthy it is what good or evil that you have done with your wealth that people will remember.

There is currently an extremely wealthy and crass businessman in the USA running for preselection as a presidential candidate for the Republican Party who realises this and is running in the hope that if he makes it he will be remembered.  He knows that his inherited wealth won’t buy immortality.

In our celebrity besotted world there are people who are said to be famous for being famous.  When you look at these people, the Kardashians and the Paris Hiltons, you realise how much they are giving fame a bad name.

Charity to his fellow human beings without discrimination was what characterised Harry West. He was an exemplary old-school kiap but was also gently opposed to the idea of being awarded a medal for his service, he simply didn’t see the necessity.

Harry West’s style of charity seems to be in short supply these days.  More often than not it is trampled under an obsession with venality.  This is so in Australia and especially so in Papua New Guinea.

How often do you hear of people giving up their professional careers to care for sick kids for instance?  They are indeed rare.

This lack of charity in Papua New Guinean society has slowly become apparent over the course of working on the Crocodile Prize.

Despite our best efforts we have only been able to find a few people in one highland province willing to take up the baton.  Ironically it is driven by the guy who gave up his job to help the orphans and poor kids of Simbu.

There is only a handful of Papua New Guinean businessmen willing to support the Prize and there are only two sitting politicians who share this view.  The prime minister and his family have pointedly ignored us.

That isn’t to say we haven’t had a few starters but they quickly pulled out when they saw nothing in it for themselves.  We had a dose of that in 2013.

It is a very curious situation when you consider the generosity you find out in the villages.  There are people in those places who have virtually nothing but they are willing to share what little they have with you.

I wonder what happens to this sense of charity when people migrate to the towns and cities.  Perhaps they realise it is a dog-eat-dog world and they have to be hard like everyone else to survive.  It is a sad indictment for the future.

An oxymoron is a phrase that contains conflicting or opposite concepts.  The classic example is ‘military intelligence’ – armies and sense just don’t seem to fit together well.

In Papua New Guinea it seems that the value of literature and sense don’t seem to fit together either.

I wonder what the world will do when all the Harry Wests are gone.


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Phil Fitzpatrick

I wasn't trying to draw a long bow between literature and kiap recognition Paul.

What I was trying to do was highlight the nature of good people like Harry West who didn't seek accolades or financial rewards for their work but simply got on with the task at hand.

Harry was a selfless person. This is a hard row to hoe in our present selfish world. I'm not sure to what extent the selfish elites in PNG are wholly like that because of westernisation or, indeed, because of their inherited Melanesian culture.

I think they are just greedy people who are happy to let a few other people do the hard work as long as they can reap the benefits.

Thinking about your other observation about how cultures and traditions are different and sometimes difficult to reconcile makes me wonder whether in fact there are any real chasms.

I don't buy the notion that westernisation is a product of a higher evolved society and that third worlders have to catch up to survive.

It's a bit like the view that Darwinian evolution only points in one direction. Sometimes species and societies regress and in some cases this isn't a bad thing (can I hear John Howard and Tony Abbott clapping?).

I can't see a lot of difference between PNG's oral literatures and ours, except perhaps we tend to write ours down and have commercialised them.

I can quite distinctly remember gathering around an old Irish storyteller as a kid and being mesmerised by his spoken yarns. My English grandmother was also a great story teller.

One of the really interesting things I've seen in my wanderings in PNG is kids and adults gathered around someone reading a book out loud in a village in the evening. Nowadays this book is occasionally a copy of the Crocodile Prize anthology.

On one occasion in the Owen Stanleys I saw a bunch of kids tell a pastor who was getting ready to read his bible to them that they preferred the battered old book of fairy tales they knew he had in his house.

As you are probably aware a book in PNG tends to be read by many people as it is passed around. This happens to newspapers and magazines too.

We tend to chuck our papers in the recycling bin when we've read them but in PNG they get passed on through many hands and when that's done get cut up to smoke brus. Doesn't do much for the papers sales but it works a treat.

At a broader level and as I get older I've tended to regard PNG people as not much different to me. This is apparent on my visits to PNG and also reading the material that comes to the Crocodile Prize.

I've always had problems understanding how people can discriminate about others on the basis of their culture or colour, it just doesn't make sense. I'm happy to like or dislike people on the basis of them being fellow human beings.

That this view has lead me to a general disquiet about the state of humanity is, I suppose, unfortunate. I think that is a thing that happens to many of us as we age and become reflective.

Paul Oates

Hi Galikeo, I meant no disrespect to anyone in what I said previously. My point was that when two people meet and seem to have similar objectives they don't always have the same perspectives on how to get there.

The so called 'western' perspective has been arrived at over many millennia as has that of a PNGian. The difficulty that must first be overcome is to understand each other's perspectives before a sustained way forward can be effectively maintained.

It's taken me a long time to understand why something that is so apparently logical isn't necessarily so to someone else. Of course some may see that as maturity. I can only hope that what I say is understandable otherwise it might just be oncoming senility.

Galikeo Ramita

Paul - disregarding the cultural baggage, instead think of how technically advanced people have become - we fly ariplanes in Dubai, drill oil for multinational companies and manage companies in China.

Simbu alone has so many PhD's that nowadays folks either boast or joke about not needing your PhD if you don't have any pasin.

No, Phil's long shot is not as tenuous a link as it might seem.

If we don't start expecting better of ourselves right now, when do we start?

Mathias Kin

Are there any Harry Wests in PNG? I have no doubt there are many Harry Wests and Phil Fitzpatricks the length and width of this land PNG. They just need that opportunity to shine, that catalyst to spring forward.

Phil alluded to Simbu... PNGians and particularly Simbus are genuinely friendly, down to earth, will be the first to put up his hand in support of others in need and generally will go that extra mile.

These are traits in a Harry West (I think). I also think it is that heart thing, is your heart in it.....if not, lus tingting!

Andy McNabb

Really, Phil?

Paul Oates

Phil, the mistake many of us made at the time was to expect that habits and entrenched culture could be changed virtually overnight when we presented something different and what we could see as beneficial. Our own culture and perspectives were not arrived at overnight. It took many generations and innumerable false starts.

PNG's traditional communication culture is verbal as was ours many centuries ago. 1,000 years ago the only English who were literate were either a few of the nobility or the clergy who actually wrote in archaic Latin rather than what passed for spoken English at that time. After 1066 it took 200 plus years the get the nobility to speak that heathen tongue let alone write in it when French was considered the educated language to speak.

The Pukpuk competition has taken more than just a few steps along the way. The generation that is now being reached by genuine PNG writers will undoubtedly take the baton up and keep it going. How or when that happens might not be up to us at all.

To mix your frustration over PNG writing up with efforts to get any Kiap recognition by their own nation, let alone PNG, is a distinctly 'long bow' to have to try and resort to.

I now see PNG news items regularly reported in the Australian media. When you throw a rock into a pond you never know where the ripples will end up. But what you do know is that you will get ripples.

Robin Lillicrapp

It is what you have written about this theme that will last. As the Simbu writers, and others, take up the pen, the lid is lifted upon the otherwise veiled.

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